“We must not only resent and be angered at injustice; we must simultaneously be in love with justice, and we must be in love with each other.”
I am moved by this sentence, written by our brilliant colleagues Stephen Quaye, Rachel Aho, Dre Dominigue, Florence Guido, Melissa Beard Jacob, Alex Lange, Dian Squire, and D-L Stewart, in the Bold Vision Forward: Framework for the Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization (2018, p. 11).
This one line, this one BOLD line, encapsulates everything about the future of higher education and the future of student affairs. Yes we need to continue our advocacy and action against injustice. Yes we need to continue our efforts to imagine and shape a world built for justice. Too often, I think, we weigh too heavily on one side or the other. Either too much anger, or too much hope. The former leads us to become anarchists without grounding in community; the latter leads us to become misplaced idealists lost in our naivete. We need the harmony of both.
But the profoundness of their words lies in the last part: “we must be in love with each other.” We have forgotten how to love in these times. Somehow, we have dropped love from the equation. Our love shows up in pockets and certain places, but we don’t live in it. Perhaps we dabble in it. I know the hate and injustice and pain around us is a lot, and sadly, there is no rest from its attacks. But we cannot begin to transform our communities or transform our profession without living in love.
And yet there is hope. There is a growing consciousness, and a profound community of activists and leaders who are picking up and expanding the efforts to love more deeply and more broadly. I feel moments of light within the darkness, and I am inspired.
As I think about what this means for us as an association, I also know that ACPA is a place where we practice our best selves, with grace, accountability, and love. We may be imperfect in our practice, but love is very much centered in who we are—and always has been.
ACPA, almost 96 years young, is marching boldly to 100. We are a vibrant, strong association, clear in our knowing of who we are, but also perpetually in our process of becoming. We continue to boldly work for the transformation in higher education, boldly work for equity and justice, and boldly work for scholarship and practice.
When I started in the role of president last March, I wondered about some key questions:
- How does/will ACPA prepare students to live in a just and inclusive society?
- How does/will ACPA prepare and engage student affairs professionals to embark on/join that journey?
- How does/will ACPA shape and change institutions to be more just and inclusive?
As we progress toward 100 years, we need to consider some of these questions and reflect on possible answers. We have some good guides to do this: the board is completing a new strategic plan to guide our work, and the membership approved a new mission statement to guide our purpose. I am proud of the clear naming of who we want to be in answering these questions:
ACPA transforms higher education by creating and sharing influential scholarship, shaping critically reflective practice, and advocating for equitable and inclusive learning environments.
As we continue our work, we need to understand these questions individually and collectively, and explore the answers that come up. We need to also be prepared to change our practice while we work on boldly transforming higher education. And we need to do the challenging work to live in love throughout.
It will be hard, and scary, and require our deep vulnerability. In the words of Nakia from the Black Panther comic, the sister of T-Challa, who also served as Black Panther: “We are strong enough to care for others AND protect ourselves.” This is not the time to succumb to fear, but exactly the time to embrace love.
Our work is not abstract or theoretical. The quality of the work we do, and HOW we do it (linked to our values) has real impact on real people. We need to know how we are preparing students to co-create and live in a just society. We need to know how we are preparing ourselves to guide that work. We need to know how we will shape and change our institutions, and higher education, to be more just and loving. Again, we have a bold vision, and some bold templates to get us started.
I ask you to join us in this journey.
Samuel Merritt University (CA)
2019-2020 ACPA President